Italian cuisine: tomatoes are the basis. Pasta, spaghetti, pizza, lasagna

“Tomatoes are in our DNA. We grew up with tomatoes in our recipes, they have become a symbol of our gastronomy,” says Paolo Gramaglia, owner and chef of the Michelin-starred President restaurant in Pompeii.

“People tend to think that Italian food has always been the same as it is today – that Dante ate pizza,” Eva Del Soldatoová, who also teaches the history of Italian cuisine in the Department of Romance Languages ​​at the University of Pennsylvania, explains to CNN.

“I think that specific beliefs about what is Italian have taken hold in America. The sun is still shining and people are playing mandolins and eating pizza and chicken parmesan — which isn’t even Italian food.” says Stanley Tucci, an American actor of Italian descent who decided to challenge these stereotypes with a new culinary travelogue.

“Invasion and religion, politics… each region is so idiosyncratic, it’s not just about the map, it’s about the food,” Tucci reminds CNN that Italy as a country has only existed since 1861. Certain regions have preserved their traditions for a long time, including the cuisine, so the very term Italian cuisine is actually quite a modern term.

Import from America

And the role of tomatoes in this is equally modern. They were brought to Europe in the middle of the 15th century by the Spanish conquerors of America. The name of this fruit in most European languages ​​originated from the Aztec tomatl. The Italian name pomodoro is a compound meaning “golden apple”, from which the Polish and Russian names pomidor arose. Slovaks made tomatoes from the alternative German name Paradiesapfel, while the Czechs translated it as an apple of paradise, explains the magazine Naše řeč. Of course, it is already a tomato, including the botanical name tomato eggplant.

In the kitchen, it is used as a vegetable, but botanically it is the fruit of a perennial plant, that is, actually a fruit – a berry as well as a blueberry. For the purposes of the single market, the European Union considers it, along with other fruits and vegetables, a fruit, while in other political decisions priority is given to the box of vegetables.

For a long time, however, red fruits were only for decoration in Italy. Eggplant tomatoes were proven to be grown in the botanical gardens of Pisa before 1548. The exotic novelty was slow to reach kitchens.

“People were prejudiced against tomatoes. They saw it as a cold fruit, which from the point of view of Galenic medicine was an inappropriate quality of food,” explains Del Soldato. “Eggplant had an equally bad reputation. They grow close to dirt, which was another factor that people didn’t like. And while today the common perception is that what is new is good, for a long time people viewed the new with suspicion.”

“The tomato was seen as an interesting but potentially dangerous crop, and they didn’t even think about eating it,” adds professor emeritus of Oxford University Diego Zancani, author of the book How we fell in love with Italian cuisine. Doctors helped to change the attitude towards tomatoes. “They found that if you have a skin problem and you rub an unripe tomato on the area, it helps – probably because of the vitamin C,” Zancani added to CNN.

Apparently the first surviving recipe for tomato sauce dates back to 1694, when Neapolitan chef Antonio Latini included it in his cookbook Lo Scalco alla Moderna. “He says that if you mix onions, tomatoes and some herbs, you get a very interesting sauce that can be used on all kinds of meat, especially cooked – and not very tasty things suddenly become more interesting because of the acidity of the tomatoes.” .” describes Zancani.

But it was still mostly an exotic backyard curiosity that the rich could display in their gardens. “Tomatoes were not part of the diet of the rich,” reports Del Soldato. “On the contrary, they mostly ate meat. Eating fruits and vegetables is more associated with poverty.”

And so the poor later included tomatoes in the menu in the Apennine Peninsula. Probably more out of necessity than their taste. The advantage was that they could be loaded and kept for later. From Naples, it then spread to other Spanish possessions in today’s Italy, and today it is grown practically all over the country – and on Earth. The Food and Agriculture Organization lists at least 170 countries and territories as tomato producers.

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Italians combine tomatoes mainly with pasta, and to a lesser extent with beans and other ingredients. “The basis of Tuscan cuisine is that nothing goes to waste, so if you have leftover meat, you cook it the next day with tomatoes – the sauce gives it more flavor,” for example, Del Soldato describes the traditions of his region. “I think the obsession with not wasting food is typical of Italian culture in general.”

But it’s definitely not just about being modestly content with what you have: Italians have grown many varieties of tomatoes. Small, large, smooth, broken, juicy, meaty, for salads, for cooking… They are mostly grown in the Emilia-Romagna region. On the contrary, even further north, rice predominates, and risotto is more typical of local cuisine than pasta, writes CNN.

Global cuisine

The mechanization and modernization of agriculture and the food industry brought the tomato to world fame: canned, it can be exported anywhere. With Italian cuisine.

And what should real pasta al pomodoro look like? “When tomatoes make love to spaghetti,” writes chef Gramaglia with a Michelin star, who, although he serves sophisticated specialties, does not allow himself to indulge in the classics and offers them as an amuse bouche, a small appetizer on the fork. “For spaghetti al pomodoro to be the best, you have to look at it for 10 to 15 seconds. This is how they first enter your brain, then your soul, and finally your mouth.”

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